Yesterday afternoon we ran a story on Military.com about a U.S. drone strike that killed four Shiite "militants" in Basra.
An unmanned U.S. drone fired two Hellfire missiles at militants attacking Iraqi soldiers in a Shiite militia stronghold in the southern city of Basra on Wednesday, killing four of the gunmen, the military said.
The airstrike in Basra occurred about 1 a.m. after militiamen attacked an Iraqi army patrol with rocket-propelled grenades on the eastern side of the Hayaniyah district, the U.S. military said. A vehicle suspected of containing more weapons and ammunition also was destroyed.
To me this strike seemed interesting for it's "close air support" flavor. Up until only recently, the armed Predators and Reapers have been used primarly for strategic and infrastructure strikes. We all know about drones going after HVTs in a "surgical" hit, but this time it seems they were used to support Iraqi troops on the ground.
We also saw reports of drones being used in this way during last week's fighting in Sadr City.
Does this signal a paradigm shift in the use of combat drones? I'd be interested to know what the coordination for CAS is with this kind of asset -- what's the response time? Seems to me it's a good idea in a place where US assets are thinly distributed like Basra. And as the US withdraws more and more troops over the coming years, we could see a lot more of this kind of drone-kills-man scenario.